Hadiza Ahmed Nasir El-Rufai is the first wife of Governor El-Rufai, getting her to agree to this interview was a difficult task because she “loves her privacy”. But politics have now made her life an open book. Hadiza who is a graduate of Architecture (ABU) is also a creative writer, who believes very much in making an impact in the literary world, that is why she set up the “Yashim El-Rufai foundation” in memory of her late daughter, to improve the literacy level in the North. She also told Asabe Ndoma, how she met her husband at the University and what has sustained her marriage.
How did you meet your husband, his Excellency, Governor Nasir El-Rufai and how did he woo you?
We met in 1976 at the School of Basic Studies (SBS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. At first we were just friends and then one thing led to the other. That’s it. Not a very romantic story eh?..
What attracted him to you?
Oh My God! You know he has always been a very jovial person and he was very popular and he had a lot of friends. So we became close. We were really very close friends. Then the romance thing came in.
Give us a glimpse into your background as a child?
My father was a civil servant and we didn’t lack anything but they were the civil servants of those days full of honesty, integrity. They didn’t have much money but they were okay. We lived in good house. We lived in a GRA(Government Reserved Area). Even when my father was transferred to Kaduna here, the first house that we lived was on ‘Doka Crescent’. It was a nice house. We had three square meals and our parents were able to pay ….
In fact, we had a lot of good times because even up to the time that I went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study Architecture, we had automatic scholarship. I never had to do an interview to get the scholarship. I am from former Kano State, now Jigawa State when the state was created. The moment you had admission, (I don’t know if it was the university that sent them our list), they would pay us what they called ‘feeding allowance’ and some money they called ‘Bulgeria’. I still don’t know why they call it ‘Bulgeria’. With that money, you can buy anything with it. You buy your books. You are able to feed yourself. You know. So I had good times and that is why it is important to give back to the society.
How would you describe your husband?
(Laughs). My husband? I think everybody knows my husband. You either love him or hate him. No gray area. Its either black or white. He is a gentle man and a compassionate person, honestly. He is a very
passionate person. And I think when he believe in something, he goes for it 100 per cent and I understand why that can be problem for some people because in this world sometime, people feel you need to bend
here, bend there; or compromise here and there. People have their different nature that sometimes it is very difficult to change.
What is the experience like being married to him over the years?
I will just say one word, so interesting.
How do you unwind and relax when you are not working?
Though it’s being a long time now, I used to play golf. I enjoy the game very much. Even if I am not playing the game (golf), I just like the golf course. It is such a serene environment and I love being there. And I read a lot. I am not so much into viewing television. I know right there are so many programmes that are popular but I am not too familiar with them.
What else do I do? I watch only the news on television and read, read and read.
How do you effectively manage to be a first lady a wife and a mother?
As a Mother, my children are quite grown up. I don’t have children that are small that I need to take care of and as a First Lady, I am not that …by the role of the First lady. My believe is that the role (first lady) is purely ceremonial. There are some ceremonial roles that I can play such as if you want me to go and make a speech or whatever, I do that. But I don’t take it upon myself to say that I can speak for the government or influence the government.
My husband is the governor and he is the governor. He has people that work with him. He has his executive council who are people he believes are suited for the job. Even though my husband is the governor, he has the people he works with like the Commissioners, advisers who are vast in whatever roles they are assigned. So that’s why my role as the First Lady does not really hinder me from what I want to do.
How did you feel when your husband wanted to go into main stream politics?
I didn’t like it. I am a very private person. You know what politics is in Nigeria. You know the expectation is that you don’t have privacy; every person can come. One of the most important thing
for me in my life is my privacy.. But that is what he wanted to do. What can I do? I have to support him.
Who are your role models and mentors?
Wow! I can’t remember specific names but I know I like strong and independent woman. Because I believe that we are all individuals. I know women have different role from men, but that notwithstanding, I don’t like seeing women that are weak. I like strong women because even if you have a husband that takes care of everything, you may never know; tomorrow, anything can happen. So I like strong women. I like women that are strong and want to have their own financial independence. I admire such women.
Tell us about your Non-governmental Organization, the Yashim El-Rufai Foundation?
I set up the Yashim El-Rufai Foundation in memory of my daughter who passed on in 2011 and I thought the best way to immortalize her is to do something in an area that I know would have interested her which is creative writing and literacy in Northern Nigeria. So, I set up this foundation which has two key programmes. First, the creative writing program through which we hope to nurture creativity in children between 8 years and 19 years, particularly, the girl-child.. And then the women literacy programme.
We want to target young women, whether married or unmarried. Maybe some have finished secondary schools and still want to enhance their literary skills as well as women who have dropped out. You know in this part of the world (North), women sometimes dropped out as result of early marriage or lack of money to continue. Because when a family is faced with choices, and more often than not, they would choose to educate the boys in the family rather than the girls. So, we are looking at these women. We have already identified each locations.
We are going to the communities, they give us the space, we give them the resources with teachers and the books they need to enhance their literacy. We are focusing mainly on literacy; the ability to read and write because I believe that is very important. In the world of today, if you cannot read or write, I mean you are almost like a blind person because you can be going with a sign that says ‘do not enter, danger’ and you will go right there because you don’t know what it says.
So, it is very important for everybody to be able to read and write and unfortunately in the world of today, 2017, there are still so many people that cannot read and write. So we want to concentrate on literacy and maybe some other skills; so that if they are doing some kind of business at least they can calculate their money to know whether they are making profits or not.
But the key thing is for them to be able to read and write as well as for them to have the confidence to speak anywhere in the English language to be able to sell their products; if they have products. You know we want them to have confidence to be able to speak for themselves. And also when they are able to read and write, they will have information out there in the Internet and unless they are able to read and write, they cannot access them.
They should be able to read and write and we should also teach them how to access information because these days, there is so much knowledge out there. You know, you don’t need anybody to come and say ‘I will give you an idea on how to do this or that’. All you need to do is just to Google it and it is there. But you have to acquire the knowledge. What informed me about the creative writing is the fact that…a lot of families rightfully and understandably, they concentrated more on teaching their children, the basic things like arithmetic; you know the regular lines in schools so that they can have a brighter future.
Subject that would lead them towards their profession and more often than not, they neglect creativity in children. Among these children especially the disadvantaged ones, they are great painters, artists, writers, pianists. When parents concentrating in getting their children to do the WAEC, they don’t have money to start taking children to piano lessons or creative writing lessons. So we want to like fill in that gap. You can look at it like a luxury but I think it is also very important. So, we want to nurture creativity and in that programme, we are targeting ages between 8 to 19years.
We do workshops for them. We have already done some workshops. If you go to our Facebook page, you will see what we have done. We want to later have a creative writing competition. We are proposing to have something we called the “Teen writers series”. So, out of our competition, we pick the best writing and publish. We believe this will encourage children to write well. It’s going to be a great motivator and will spur them to write more which is basically what we want to do. We want them to be more creative and explore their creativity.
You studied Architecture at the Ahmadu Bello University and also hold an MBA from the same institution and later obtain masters in Creative Writing in the United Kingdom; what informed your decision?
You know many years ago when I was in secondary school, I loved literature. But you know, in those days, the most preferred professions is to be doctors, engineers especially when you are smart, they push you towards sciences and at that time when you are young, you don’t have the power to stand your ground but anyway, I went on to study architecture but I always love literature. Some years ago, I started reading again and I thought why not go and read ‘Creative Writing’ because before I even decided on that, I tried writing and I realized that whatever you want to do, you need to learn that craft.
You understand? Like they say, ‘whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.’ So I decided to go to school. I had time. My children have grown up. So, I went to school and learn Creative Writing and I have no regrets.
The literacy level in the North is low what do you think are the factors for this?
There are so many factors; I think one of the most important things is that resources are limited. Some of these parents have children and they cannot take all of them to school at the same time. But thank God, like in Kaduna State now, education at least up to certain level, have been made free which resulted into huge increment in enrolments.
So, the problem of children not being in schools mostly is about finance because some of the parents would want the children to help in the family finances. You know school(education) is an investment that you cannot get the result or reward immediately.
So, when in need, you don’t think of what you will gain in 20 years. Rather what the child will get for the family if sent out as a house boy or married her out. But it’s really a pity and I wished it is not so. But that’s the reality. I believe that up to certain level, education should be free. Which means that the government have a lot more to do but the resources are limited.
In Nigeria, we have huge population; the price of petroleum which we depend on in the international market is not so good. So, what do we do? What more empowerment do you give to somebody than to give him literacy? You know, many times when people talk about empowerment in Nigeria, they talk of money. There are many ways to empower somebody and I think the best way to go about that is to give the person literacy skills that he/she needs. Once you do that you have done everything for the person. If the person is not lazy, then he can live. For instance, if you want to bake cake (puff-puff), you just Google and start baking your cake and selling. I believe that the most important empowerment you will give to somebody is to teach him how to read and write.
What is your view about non-participation of women in politics in the North?
Though, it is not only in this part of the country. Generally, women participation in politics is low especially when you consider the facts that population wise, we are at least 50 per cent. So, everywhere you look all across the country, participation of women is low because ideally if participation was okay, if you have a 100 members in the National Assembly, we should have at least 50 women there. But you know it is far from that. So, it is all over the country that we have
So, it is all over the country that we have low participation of women in politics and there are so many reasons for that. First of all, women do not have the financial power that men have in this country and you know what it is to be a politician in Nigeria. And at the same time, there is also the believe that when a woman is into politics and going around campaigning, rubbing shoulders with men, she is seen probably as a lose woman. So, not many people would want to put their reputation on the line. I hope this could change because we have respectable women that would want to make a difference in the society and they believe the best way to make the difference is to be in politics.